8 August 2011

A Visible Flame

Report by Mike Dooley. Pic from Ilmiliekki

Ilmiliekki is a Finnish word for a flame that ignites visibly after coals have been smouldering for a while. The fire was very evident on the night of Wednesday August 3rd as the Ilmillieki Quartet played at the Finnish embassy in Canberra. With the combined talents of 4 technically brilliant, musically sensitive, obviously highly creative musicians it is no surprise that they have won a number of Finnish and European awards and have been billed as one of Europe’s most exciting contemporary jazz acts.

It is one concert that is hard for this reviewer to categorise, and it seems a disservice to the music to classify simply it into the “jazz genre”. Conspicuous was the absence of walking bass lines and swing beats, though Antti’s rhythmic tightness and excellent intonation was evident on the bass throughout. Harmonically, the music definitely owes a lot to contemporary jazz, rhythmically perhaps more to rock, and in the sense of space, dynamics and composition there are contemporary classical influences. Underneath there is a Nordic feeling of lyricism and drama.

Their set on this occasion included mostly originals. They began with four of Verneri’s tunes. The first, Ancient History 1991, celebrated the year that Verneri started learning trumpet. Immediately a sense of space was created by a haunting melody which built into a dynamic rock influenced piece. Olavi was particularly energetic, conjuring a wide range of timbres from his kit and adding to them by drumming on the small table next to him and the concrete pillar behind him. For Three, the next tune, was a piece that felt more like 6/4 than 3/4, and had a slightly Spanish feel to the melody and harmony. Once again the sense of dynamics and space gave the composition and very satisfying arc. Following that was a piece which Verneri rather reluctantly told me after the gig was called “The Castrator”. That helped to explain the intensity and energy of the music. In retrospect, I am glad I was blissfully ignorant to the meaning. Karhu, which means the bear, began with angular, almost minimalist fragments over a fast 16 which developed into a more flowing tune played by the trumpet doubled by piano, a technique that was employed to good effect throughout the night. Tuomo then took an energetic and inventive solo, then stopped playing as Verneri took his solo over the drums and bass. Once again contrast and space was created. Next the band once again showed their eclectic talents with a delightfully pentatonic rendition of Burt Bacharach’s “Me Japanese boy”.

The next 2 pieces in the set were written by Tuomo. Ico began with an almost classical sounding piano solo that once again contained echoes of Debussy and Ravel, then voiced piquantly by Verneri on melodica. A very fast but at the same time and spacious rock beat then sat under a piano and trumpet doubled melody, which developed into a innovative solo where Verneri squeezed a wide variety of tones out of his instrument. Tuomo backed up with minimalist textures on piano that could have come out of Steve Reich composition. Then proceeded with a blindingly fast solo that continued as Verneri reprised the melodica melody, and the piece ended once again with a return to the poignant lyricism of the intro. The next piece, Hatchi, was underpinned with a minimalist one note bass line and drum beat that could almost be described as ¼ and an unusual but appealing major melody. Tuomo then created a heavenly sounding contrapuntal melodic solo in the high register of the piano towards the end of which Verneri came in softly underneath with a beautifully understated mournful trumpet melody, which grew into his own solo, beginning with unusual breath effects on the trumpet and climaxing with low flutter tones on top of Tuomo’s apocalyptic sounding rippling piano chords. As the piece developed to its frenetic climax, Verneri once again voiced the melody. The encore was a rendition of Ornette Coleman’s “What reason could I give”, at the end of which Verneri played a haunting unaccompanied solo into the piano with the pedal held down, creating scintillating harmonic reverberations.

Chatting with the band afterwards, I learned that Verneri had almost given up trumpet in his early twenties, but was inspired to continue after hearing Norwegian jazz trumpet player Per Jorgensen. So we have a lot to thank Per for, because Verneri and his fellow band members have made an unmistakable and highly unique contribution to the contemporary music scene.

Ilmiliekki Quartet are Verneri Pohjola (trumpet), Tuomo Prättälä (piano), Antti Lötjönen (bass) and Olavi Louhivuori (drums).

1 comment:

Gillian said...

Great review - wish I'd been there! GD